The women around Jesus.
May 22nd, 2002
Received by H.
My dear brother, you will remember that I have already told you many days ago how Jesus preached to the pagans of Decapolis, without much success, by the way. I want to add on this occasion that this would change very soon, and in later days the Christian communities of Decapolis would play a very important role in the development of the early church. However, let us return now to the year 26.
After the “disillusionment” suffered amongst the heathens, Jesus dedicated the rest of the year to strengthening his influence and that of his followers in the areas around the Sea of Galilee. He sensed that he would need a reliable base in the future, from where he could launch his missionary journeys, if I may use this modern word.
One summer day, when we were in Magdala, that town well-known for its many weaving workshops, and finding refuge from the burning midday sun under the branches of a thriving sycamore, suddenly a raucous mob of men and women approached us. The hotheaded crowd pushed and dragged a poor woman, who was crying desperately, and tossed her in front of the Master.
Yes, this is a famous story contained in the gospel according to John. It starts this way:
“... while Jesus went off to the Mount of Olives. Early next morning he returned to the Temple and the entire crowd came to him. So he sat down and began to teach them.”
What have the Mount of Olives and the Temple to do with Magdala? Here an explanation is necessary.
Many specialists, for a very simple reason, do not consider this passage in John authentic. It is missing from many of the oldest manuscripts, and in others, it appears to have been inserted in different places, in different contexts. It is obvious that it was not part of the original text. Nevertheless, I assure you that it describes a fact which truly happened, and in Magdala, as I have stated. That story, and a few others, circulated independently from the earliest writings of the gospels, and was incorporated by the Johannite community, because they considered that it reflected the Master’s attitude in a typical way — and they were absolutely right. Then, the story continues so:
“But the scribes and Pharisees brought in to him a woman who had been caught in adultery. They made her stand in front, and then said to him, ‘Now, master, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. According to the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women to death. Now, what do you say about it?’”
You understand that the stereotypical formula, “the scribes and Pharisees,” is of a later age, when this appelation was applied to Jesus’ opponents, and when the Sadducees no longer existed, after the destruction of Jerusalem.
“They said this to test him, so that they might have some good grounds for an accusation. But Jesus stooped down and began to write with his finger in the dust on the ground.”
Actually, they were not Jesus’ opponents, but Jews infuriated by the infidelity of a married woman. And they approached the Master to request his advice. Besides, take note that Jesus was scribbling with his finger in the dust, which he hardly could have done in the preciously tiled courtyards of the Temple.
“But as they persisted in their questioning, he straightened himself up and said to them, ‘Let the one among you who has never sinned throw the first stone at her.’
Then he stooped down again and continued writing with his finger on the ground.”
The legend has it that Jesus wrote the names of all the adulterers amongst the populace, who had dragged the poor woman before him. But that is not true, he was simply resting under the tree, “swinging with his soul,” as the Germans used to say, that is, relaxing and dreaming with his eyes open.
“And when they heard what he said, they were convicted by their own consciences and went out, one by one, beginning with the eldest. Jesus was left alone, with the woman still standing where they had put her.
So he stood up and said to her, ‘Where are they all—did no one condemn you?’
And she said, ‘No one, sir.’ ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus to her. ‘Go away now and do not sin again.’”
You have always liked this story, and it is a so typical of Jesus, showing his love, his affection and his greatness.
It is true, Mosaic Law demanded death for adulterers:
Deuteronomy 22:22 If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.
But take note that only the woman was dragged in front of Jesus. Amongst men, there was much more tolerance.
Women’s social position in Jesus’ time was truly deplorable. Practically they had no rights, they had no dignity, and they did not enjoy self-determination. Men could get divorced from their wives, but women could never plead for a divorce.
Sons were always preferred to daughters by their parents, and in many families, the birth of a daughter was considered a great calamity. If a couple could not have children, the blame always fell on the woman.
In lawsuits, women could not serve as witnesses. And how many cases were there when a woman was violated and then stoned for being an adulteress, because she did not have witnesses who would declare what had really happened! Of course violators generally do not seek to publicly manifest their misdeeds.
Jesus’ attitude towards women in general was exceptional, full of respect and appreciation. We did not understand this - to us women were nothing. In invitations, women were not counted, their voice had no weight, they were simply a necessary evil.
In the gospel of Thomas, you can find this significant sentence:
Simon Peter said to them, “Make Mariham (Mary Magdalene) leave us, for females don’t deserve life.”
Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven.”
Difficult words, don’t you think? Of course, there were many frictions between men and women amongst Jesus’ followers. Actually, women understood his message better, and they generally implanted “Christianity” in the bosom of their families, while their husbands frequently distinguished themselves through their indifference and incapacity of grasping what the Master was teaching. Women would have deserved the role of leaders in the early Christian movement, but due to male incomprehension, and because of male prejudice, they were pushed into the background.
Jesus tried to teach men and women’s equality, demonstrating to us through his example the respect that they deserved, but we did not understand, and we did not want to understand. Jesus stated on repeated occasions that women could inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, as could men, but take a look at the words that here were put into the Master’s mouth. Remember the story of a religious congregation of white people in the southern USA, in Georgia, when one of those present asked the reverend: “May Negroes enter Heaven?” And he responded: “Yes, of course. But first they have to become Whites.”
It is the same thing, exactly the same! A confirmed attitude of ignorance and lack of love.
Look, for example, what the gospel of Thomas tells us additionally:
Jesus said, “Two will recline on a couch; one will die, one will live.”
Salome said, “Who are you mister? You have climbed onto my couch and eaten from my table as if you are from someone.”
Jesus said to her, …
We need not interest ourselves right now in Jesus’ answer, but in the fact that he had climbed onto Salome’s couch. This does not mean that he had jumped into her bed, but rather, that he occupied the place adjacent to Salome at the table, where the guests lay down to have dinner. That is to say, Salome could participate as a full disciple at Jesus’ meetings, and she was not the only woman who enjoyed this privilege. What is even more so, she occupied a place of honor in this story, at the Master’s side. This passage, so often wrongly interpreted, signals the equality which women enjoyed in the Master’s eyes, an equality which vanished after Jesus’ death. Jesus did the unthinkable in the view of society.
Moreover, it was Salome who inquired about the transformation of soul and of the role of sexes in the eternal life. And Jesus answered her:
“You will trample the clothing of shame, and both will become one, and the male, together with the female, will be neither male nor female.”
The few women mentioned in the New Testament, such as Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Mary Magdalene, did not enjoy an easy life with us. They were “females” whom we treated with envy, because “they unduly occupied positions close to Jesus, which we would have deserved.” And for the public, the male public, of course, they simply did not exist. But they, with their silent work, were able to recruit more followers than we could with our fervent speeches in the market places of the cities. Their harvest was abundant. And our obstinate resistance to recognize their task was even greater.
This is all for today.
God bless you,
NOTE from author: Regarding Salome, I don’t know who she was, perhaps Zebedee’s wife? She is called Salome in the Bible. But “Shlomit,” as the real name would have been, was as common as Mary, Ann and Jane in English.
I guess she was one of those women who joined Jesus with Mary the Magdalene. So she would have been with him almost from the very beginning.
In antiquity, meals were taken “lying” at U-shaped tables. The places for the guests were on the outer curvature of the “U,” the inner side was for giving access to the servants. The place of honor was in the middle of the U, that is, seeing the letter, the bottommost point. This was Jesus’ “seat.”
For example, when the Bible mentions that John lay his head on Jesus’ breast, this was the only way to be able to talk to him when lying in front of him, with his back towards Jesus.
So, the message simply states that women could and did occupy places of honor in Jesus’ society, at least while he was alive.
© Copyright is asserted in this message by Geoff Cutler 2013